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Cruise: French Polynesia to San Diego

Cruising from Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia to San Diego, USA aboard ms Statendam

“Sea days” are a necessary part of most cruises, where the ship is at sea for a day or two (or longer sometimes) while traveling between ports-of-call. Some passengers pick cruises with the most sea days because they obviously enjoy the isolation and routine that inevitably occurs during these days. I have met passengers on previous voyages that don’t get off the ship, even when it is in port – they enjoy shipboard life so much! Others dread the sea days, and constantly complain they are bored and dwell on the next port-of-call. I am somewhere in the middle…I like sea days, but not too many in a row. This final leg of the voyage from Nuku Hiva to San Diego takes six days, which I know will test my patience after the first couple of days into it. I ensure I have projects I can do during these “sea days”, which keep the boredom at bay, and ensure I accomplish something during this down time.

Of course the ship’s entertainment staff are fully prepared to keep everyone occupied with dozens of activities each day the ship is at sea. The casino goes full out during these days, and I suspect they get customers they otherwise wouldn’t see, simply because passengers are looking for something to do. The staff running the shops aboard ship can also be counted on to put on product presentations, free draws, and serve champagne at their special sales events reserved for these days at sea when they are guaranteed a captive audience. Lots of passengers read books – sitting out on deck for hours at a time. Some passengers get into some serious drinking, especially during the afternoon Happy Hour, when the bars come alive. Others take workshops to learn about computers, digital cameras, food, dancing, playing musical instruments, wine appreciation, making jewelry, keeping fit, playing bridge, and dozens of other activities.


Ship's position - March 10, 2014

Ship’s position – March 10, 2014

March 10, 2014 – Monday – Day 1 Sea Day

I wake up about 4AM and look out the window to see Venus drilling through the clouds, and then go back to sleep. This is our first full sea day of six enroute to San Diego and the end of the cruise. I have a full day planned, with enrichment talks and other activities. I received my Mariner Society Brunch invitation for the 12th, which I plan to attend, mainly so I can see the captain. I have yet to spot him on this long voyage!

  • 11:30AM – Discover SkyDrive Connect to SkyDrive.com – Digital Workshop – “Explore different ways to access, manage, and share your files on SkyDrive.” I use SkyDrive (now called OneDrive) and learned a few tips by attending this tech workshop.
  • 3PM – Hubble”s Greatest Hits – Showroom at Sea – Jonathan Nally – “It’s the most famous telescope in the world … or more accurately, in space! Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has produced many of the most amazing images of the cosmos ever taken. Jonathan Nally takes you on a colorful journey through more than 20 years of Hubble’s most incredible discoveries and awe-inspiring images.” This presentation is mostly astronomical eye candy, but it is an enjoyable way to pass an hour.

I am the only person swimming in the Ocean View Pool just before noon. The water in the pool is sloshing around a great deal as the ship is buffeted by strong winds. By this afternoon, we are being hit with 35kt winds as we proceed on our NE course across the Equator. There are whitecaps out on the water as I negotiate the windy Promenade Deck for my usual walk I take each day.

It is formal night this evening, so I get into my dark jacket, pants and tie before going to the Rotterdam dining room for dinner. I have a seafood dinner, starting with cold Lobster with mayonnaise, then Manhattan clam chowder, and Alaska King Crab and drawn butter for an entrée. The lobster and crab were very good, but the chowder was not inspiring. I had a chocolate espresso soufflé with warm raspberry sauce for dessert, which was excellent!

Jonathan Nalley leads a stargazing session from the Sea View Pool stern deck again tonight, and points out the Southern Cross to the crowd of about 50 people. I enjoy looking at M42 the Orion Nebula and Jupiter and its moons.

March 11, 2014 – Tuesday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 2 Sea Day

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

I have breakfast this morning with the dialysis doctor and his wife. He has a few dialysis patients aboard, one of which became unstable and had to be taken ashore in Nuku Hiva and onward to the hospital in Papeete. There are some rain showers while we have breakfast and during the day, however the Sun comes out for the King Neptune Ceremony held this morning on the stern deck at the Ocean View Pool. Several pollywogs are duly initiated by the shellbacks. Despite having photos from similar ceremonies on two previous Holland America cruises, I take a few more photos, since this is always a fun event.

The wind is strong at 35kts from the NE, so with us steering a course of 028, we are taking the wind just off the bow. They close the decks, but passengers continue to sit on the loungers and walk the decks, putting up with some sea spray and being blown around a bit. The ship is maintaining a speed of 18 knots as we head north to San Diego.

March 12, 2014 – Wednesday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 3 Sea Day

I have breakfast this morning in the Rotterdam dining room, but keep it light since I have the Mariners Brunch to attend at 11AM. The Mariners Brunch is where virtually everyone aboard is recognized for our loyalty to Holland America with a gift of a Delft ceramic tile. The Captain and Hotel Manager are on hand to greet everyone, and the Cruise Director emcees the proceedings. We have a lunch menu to choose from, and we are out of there by noon.

I go to Jonathan Nalley’s presentation on Mars and the missions sent there. I spend a few minutes online this afternoon in order to finish what I was doing yesterday when the connection to the Internet broke. I had to ask for a credit, since I couldn’t log back on to log off properly yesterday. This morning the connection wasn’t solid, so that’s why I waited until this afternoon to complete my posting to facebook, and download some email.

2014 Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

After dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening, I go to see the show Marcus Terrell & The Serenades, which is a Motown trio with some soul mixed in. I enjoyed their show a few nights ago, and this one is even better. They mix it up by adding in some pop/opera with “The Promise”, and pretty well nail it. They get a standing ovation and give the appreciative audience an encore. Their Facebook page.

March 13, 2014 – Thursday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 4 Sea Day

As expected, the last few days of this cruise are becoming a bit tedious. I don’t really participate in many of the activities that are listed in the newsletter each day. I attend about half the shows in the Showroom, which are generally well done, and sometimes exceptional. I attend all the enrichment lectures, and really appreciate the astronomy speaker Jonathan Nalley. I’m glad I have my MacBook Air notebook computer with me, since I spend about an hour each day working on my travel journal, and extracting material every few days to post on my JoeTourist blog.

Taking photographs is probably my main diversion on this trip. The subsequent task of filling in the metadata for each photo takes considerable time and effort, but at least it keeps me busy while we are at sea, and it makes the job of updating my main JoeTourist.ca website much easier after I return home. I purchase another 100 minutes of Internet time this morning for $55, to give me lots of online time until our arrival in San Diego. There is a bonus 20 minutes offered for this deal for today only. I decide this is better value than purchasing the ship’s DVD videos of the trip at $80 for the set of four. Last cruise I purchased the DVDs, and they just sit on the shelf at home after I watched them once.

9:30AM – To Pluto and Beyond – Jonathan Nally “details three space missions currently underway-one that’s heading for a landing on a comet. another that will investigate the giant planet Jupiter, and one that will give us our first close-up pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto and other icy worlds beyond. All three spacecraft have been zooming through space for years now, and excitement is mounting as they begin to close in on their destinations.” I enjoy this lecture very much, despite knowing a fair bit about all three missions previously.

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

There is a great deal of hacking and coughing on the ship right now. I’m hoping to not catch a cold before I board my flight home, otherwise flying will be a painful experience. I give my two Indonesian cabin stewards a tip this morning, since they have worked so well to keep my cabin neat and tidy. Dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening has a Filipino and Indonesian theme. The waiters are in costume, the room is decorated, and the menu has both ethnic foods featured, making things very festive.

After dinner, I decide to skip the show and do laundry one more time, since I want to wear clean blue jeans on my flight home. The washer only takes 25 cents before starting, so that saves me from the usual $2 charge – bonus!

March 14, 2014 – Friday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 5 Sea Day

I check on my flights home on the United Airlines website and find they are on schedule. I always check in at the counter when I arrive at the airport, since I have to check my big bag and get seat assignments. It is too complicated and time-consuming to do this online while aboard ship, although many passengers will do this, no doubt.

I attend two talks put on by ship’s officers today.

  • 10AM – Virtual Engine Room Tour with Chief Engineer Silbert Whyte, the Chief Engineer talks about the engines, power, and other infrastructure systems in the ship, gives the first presentation.
  • 2PM Virtual Bridge Tour with Statendam’s Navigational and Safety Officer who is also the First Officer talks about the bridge, navigation and other bridge functions. Both are informative, and there are lots of questions from the audience.

We have our last formal night this evening, and it is also the Black and White Ball later this evening, so the Rotterdam dining room is decorated once again. The tenor and the soprano from the ship’s troupe sing classic songs this evening in the Showroom, and an orchestra is assembled from the various musicians aboard the ship to back them up. It was well done, and I enjoyed it.

Ship's position - one day out of San Diego

Ship’s position – one day out of San Diego

March 15, 2014 – Saturday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 6 Sea Day

Today is a strange and melancholy day for me. I went to a couple of events this morning, but I’m restless and anxious to leave the ship to return home. The entertainment staff is doing their best to keep us all busy with lots of events scheduled, but I just don’t have the patience for it. I’m not even interested in working on my journal or photos today.

I try to watch a movie this afternoon, but I just can’t stand the slow pace of the story, so I walk out. I catch the end of the Hula & Ukulele rehearsal by the passengers who have been learning how to dance and play during the cruise. They did very well! I actually came to the Showroom to hear the Third Officer Mikko talk about Icebreakers in his native Finland, which I find closer to my interest. Obviously I’m a techie guy at heart!

There is a parade of serving staff  in the Rotterdam dining room this evening. It is truly amazing to see the hundreds of serving staff who make the passengers life aboard ship so wonderful. They get a well-deserved ovation, as they are recognized for all their dedication and hard work. Some may say this is simply a pitch for tips, however I can see the pride in the faces of the men and women as they parade through the room.

Parade of serving staff in the Rotterdam dining room

Parade of serving staff in the Rotterdam dining room

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Cruise: San Diego to Hawaii

Cruising from San Diego, California, USA to Hawaii aboard ms Statendam

February 15, 2014 – Saturday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 1

I wake up too early at 7AM and need my morning coffee, so I go to the Explorers Café for a cappuccino. After sitting in the leather recliner looking out at the calm Pacific Ocean from the quiet library, I am feeling much better, and then go for breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room, which opens at 8AM. I have a cup of tea and a frittata as I chat with my fellow passengers.

Since this is a day at sea, the entertainment staff have a full slate of activities scheduled. All is revealed in the daily newsletter published each morning. I’m big on enrichment talks, so I go to all of them:

11AM Showroom – Pacific People: How the Islanders Arrived – Charlie Urbanowicz explains how the original inhabitants of the islands crossed the Pacific Ocean and where they came from. I learn that human migrations used cloud tops over the island groups for navigation. I already knew they used wave patterns, the Sun and stars to navigate.

3PM Showroom – The Wildlife of Remote Pacific Islands – Hawaii and Tahiti – Clive Catchpole presents some of the fascinating and unusual creatures that inhabit these isolated islands. Clive points out that the Pacific Islands we will be visiting have very few endemic species. Most species were imported. He points out that the Humpback whale migration is in full swing right now, and we will likely see them in Maui. He also talks about the big seabirds, such as Albatross (offshore), Boobies, Gannets and Frigate birds found near shore.

Catch A Wave group

Catch A Wave group

After dinner, I enjoy a Benedictine liqueur while listening to Catch A Wave, a Beach Boys tribute band this evening in the Showroom. The tunes are very well done, with a near-perfect 5-part harmony, and they are dressed in the early striped shirts and white pants the Beach Boys originally performed in. However they just stand there – no movement or dancing around during their performance.

After the show, I go to the office to check that they know about my departure from the ship in Hilo, and re-boarding in the following day in Kailua-Kona. The young woman tells me my plans are contrary to the US Merchant Marine Act (successor to the Jones Act), and I will be subject to a $300 charge by the US government for contravening this maritime law. She points out that the cruise line has no problem with me leaving and rejoining the ship on the Big Island of Hawaii, but the US government does.

This means I have to cancel my plans to see Mauna Kea at night, so I send an email to the Old Hawaiian B&B to cancel my night’s stay in Hilo. I will also have to contact Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, but I can wait until we arrive in Honolulu so I don’t have to pay the expensive per minute rates while aboard ship.

This is very disappointing, since I was looking forward to seeing the night sky from Mauna Kea. Perhaps I’ll drive up there during the day, since my rental car is a proper 4×4 Ford Explorer truck. I will have to decide very soon how best to use my day in Hilo, and the following day in Kona.

February 16, 2014 – Sunday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 2

I wake up at 8AM this morning, which is a bit late for me, so at least I’m starting to get into “holiday mode”. I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a cappuccino, and Eggs Royal (2 poached eggs on an English muffin with smoked salmon and some home fries), hold the Hollandaise sauce.

I am starting to know the layout of the ship. The Statendam is the oldest ship in this series, and it is showing its age a bit, however as with other Holland America ships, it is kept up-to-date and spotlessly clean, and has a rich-looking décor without being “over the top”. My cabin is mid-ships on Main Deck. Since my cabins on my two previous Holland America cruises were near the bow, I have to learn the most efficient way to get to the places I most want to go to: the Showroom At Sea, the Explorers Lounge, the Rotterdam dining room, the Lido buffet, and the Sea View pool.

It is formal wear tonight so I dress in my blue blazer jacket, dark grey dress pants and white shirt and tie. The Maître ‘d seats me at a large 8 seat oval table in the middle of the dining room. I order Rack of Lamb and have a glass of white wine…a very nice dinner indeed.

Bob Mackie costume

Bob Mackie costume

I go to the Showroom tonight to see Bob Mackie’s Broadway, which is a song and dance show well performed by the ship’s resident troupe of entertainers. The Bob Mackie costumes look great, and I always enjoy the singing and dancing of the resident entertainment troupe.

February 17, 2014 – Monday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 3

This is another day at sea, so I take in more enrichment speakers. Kainoa is a Hawaiian man aboard the ship as the Location Guide. Strictly speaking, he works for the Excursions Department, and his job is to sell passengers the ship’s excursions. Kainoa takes it up a notch, and gives very interesting talks on the ports, and is more like another enrichment speaker in my books.

Charles Darwin portrait

Charles Darwin

9AM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Honolulu & Oahu – Kainoa recommends going to the Ala Moana Beach & Magic Island, which are between the cruise ship dock and Waikiki, about 2 miles from the cruise dock. This sounds like a good plan for me, since I’m going on a North Shore tour one day, but I have the second day we’re in port to myself. He also mentions the Foster Botanical Gardens. Apparently they are both 2 miles from cruise dock.

2PM Showroom – Amazing Voyage of Charles Darwin – Clive Catchpole – Darwin’s work as a naturalist aboard the Beagle was nothing short of amazing. Keep in mind; Darwin was trained in both theology (which he hated) and botany (which he loved). The ship discovered Beagle Passage, an easier alternative to going ‘around the Horn’ of South America. Darwin noticed that mockingbirds and finches differed from island to island in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin predicted the decline of the Aboriginals in Australia, and waited 20 years to publish his famous work On the Origin of Species in 1859. Clive is an outstanding speaker, with a dry sense of British humour.

3PM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Kingdom to State – Kainoa describes how the US annexed Hawaii, over the objections of the Hawaiian monarchy. Business interests drove this annexation. Now there is a “Nation within a nation” – Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

I saw an old guy in the casino yesterday with a t-shirt slogan that simply said “I’ve been there…”. When Kainoa recently asked people in one of his talks who were first time cruisers, nobody raised their hands! That speaks volumes about the demographic on this cruise. Arman the Cruise Director mentioned in a previous session in the Showroom At Sea that one passenger has spent something like 10,000 days on board Holland America ships…more than 27 years, which exceeds Arman’s age!

February 18, 2014 – Tuesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 4

I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a Southwest Omelet and a cappuccino. One couple is from Connecticut and another couple is from Toronto, so they both have storm stories to tell – ice and hurricanes. The Toronto couple were aboard the Prinsindam when she sailed around South America and further south near Antarctica. Apparently the ship nearly capsized when it was hit with a double wave. According to them she was heeled over 60 degrees, they lost 80% of the crockery, and there were several injuries among crew and passengers. I may reconsider my plans to do that cruise!

As in past cruises, the older folks are about evenly split between reading paperbacks and using various brands of electronic readers. I’m using my iPad for occasions when I feel like reading. I have a 650 page book I’m working on, and I also loaded a couple of year’s worth of magazines on it, so I have lots of reading material. My music is on my iPhone, and my documents are on my MacBook Air, so I’m well equipped to entertain myself with my high-tech gear.

There is only one enrichment talk today:

10AM Showroom – The evolution of life on planet Earth – Clive Catchpole – Clive has turned out to be a real treasure on this cruise. He is witty, has a dry sense of English humour, and presents the most interesting lectures. I always take lots of notes at his presentations.

There are no presentations this afternoon that appeal to me, and I have nothing planned. Several passengers and Clive have mentioned there is a Lysan Albatross flying with the ship, so I grab my camera and circle the outside decks looking for this bird to no avail. As usual, I skip lunch in favor of having a cappuccino and a couple of cookies in the early afternoon around 2PM. I take my iPad and read my book for an hour while I have my coffee.

The ship has been lurching a bit in large 8’ swells, which are apparently coming from a couple of storms north of the Hawaiian Islands, where the captain tells us the swells are 20’. Weather reports are apparently good for when we arrive in Hawaii, but at the moment they have overcast skies and rain. We also have had overcast skies but no rain since we left sunny San Diego. The outside temperature is a mild 21°C during the day…not exactly time for swimming in the outside pool, but pleasant enough.

I go to dinner this evening at 6PM, my usual time. I am seated with two couples that are both from Burnaby, so our table isn’t just Canadian…it’s British Columbian! One couple booked the cruise three weeks before departure date, and paid half fare. Obviously they didn’t get their choice of cabins, but they were upgraded from an inside cabin to an outside cabin, so they did pretty well. His luggage was lost by Air Canada/United in Denver, so he only has one pair of pants to wear, and had to rent a tuxedo for formal night, as well as buy spare socks and underwear in the shop. Apparently United will be paying them $300 for the inconvenience, and will ship his bag to Honolulu.

February 19, 2014 – Wednesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 5

I wake up at 6:30AM, which is too early, but setting the clocks back an hour last night has screwed me up. I head up to the Explorations Café for a cappuccino at 7AM. Yesterday the captain reported we were moving clear of the big swells and would experience confused seas, and that’s exactly what I see out the windows this morning. We still have overcast skies, and the sea is grey just like at home during the winter months. The ship is making 17.7 knots this morning, and we are within a day’s sail of Hawaii, so I’m sure the captain is pleased to be on schedule (as am I).

I’m looking forward to the end of these days at sea. At day 5, I’m finding it a bit tedious, although I am certainly catching up on my rest! Breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room this morning was very pleasant. I was seated at a table for six: 2 Brits (SE England), 2 Americans (S central WA), and a Canadian woman (Calgary). We discuss the XL oil pipeline proposal. Of course the Americans are all in favour of the pipeline, and hate Obama. The English complain about the long tags on their clothing and other goods, which now have to accommodate all the languages in the EU.

I decide it is time to do laundry this morning since I’m not interested in any of the morning presentations, and we are experiencing a tropical downpour outside. It costs $2 to wash (including detergent), and $1 for the dryer. I buy a roll of quarters from the front desk, so I’m set for the trip. While I wait for my laundry, there is a balloon toss game being played in the Atrium. It’s called “keep the guests busy” on their fifth day at sea!

By Noon the Sun is out and the clouds are mostly cleared in favour of blue sky. People are out on deck sunning themselves almost immediately! I decide to have some lunch in the Lido and eat out on the Lido pool deck where the HAL-cat band is playing. Now this is the typical cruise ship experience…all I need is a beer! It’s formal night tonight, so perhaps I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner.

1PM Showroom – The social life of animals – Clive Catchpole – Clive talks about Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, who defends Darwin’s views about individual selection theories, but proposes that Evolution is all about genes being passed on, and believes that genes are immortal, unlike human bodies, Dawkins Book: The Selfish Gene 1978. This was another first-rate talk by Clive! He won’t be back until we leave Hawaii.

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

I was going to listen to Kainoa’s talk on the History of the Hula after Clive’s presentation, but decide to skip it in favour of going for a swim in the Sea View Pool. The water is cool, but it is great to swim a bit – a refreshing break from all my inactivity so far on the cruise.

I dress for dinner and am seated with the couple from Atlanta, and the couple from Burnaby I previously met, and one other woman. After dinner, I go to the Showroom to see a magician and comedian act, but he is less than entertaining, so I leave mid-way through the performance.

Since it is clear outside, I go up to Deck 14, the Sky Deck to measure the sky darkness with my Sky Quality Meter and to observe the stars. The lights are on up there, but I get an exceedingly dark reading. I also see the Orion (the Warrior) constellation on his side and Cygnus (the Swan) constellation, which is also flying on her side.

Tomorrow morning we land in Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I think it’s safe to say everyone aboard is looking forward to it. I know I am!

On board the Paul Gauguin – Fiji to New Caledonia

 

November 11, 2012 – Sunday – Our first day at sea – enroute from Lautoka, Fiji to New Caledonia

The ship’s clocks were set back an hour last night, so I wake up around 5AM. I have to fill in some time before I can get a cappuccino and a French pastry at La Palette at 6:30AM. I am battling a nasty cold I obviously picked up while aboard the flight down to Fiji…damned airliners!

TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have fully chartered the ship, so they have arranged a wonderful array of enrichment speakers, which start their presentations today. When we are at sea, there are four presentations scheduled for each day. What a change from the Incan Empires Cruise on the Rotterdam last year, where there was a dearth of enrichment speakers!

9:30AM Speaker: How to Experience and Enjoy the Eclipse – Rick Fienberg gives an engaging talk about the basics of total solar eclipse watching, covering off the best ways to experience the eclipse, a bit of advice about photography and visual observing, safety tips, the sequence of events, and some practical advice on how to enjoy this special experience.

11AM Speaker: Seabirds of the South Pacific, Living on the wide, wide sea – Dr. Roger Lederer describes a wide variety of seabirds who inhabit the islands we are traveling to, and also mentions other notable seabirds who inhabit other parts of the Pacific Ocean.

2:30PM Speaker: Coral Reefs – Ethan Daniels‘ presentation shows us how coral reefs formed eons ago, what wildlife make their home in the reefs, and where the great reefs of the world are located. Ethan works part-time for Wilderness Adventures, and spends the rest of his time researching the biology of reefs and the wildlife in Indonesia and other areas where the world’s greatest reefs are located.

4PM Speaker: Anatomy of the Sun, from Core to Corona – Holly Gilbert works for Ames/NASA in Solar Physics as a solar prominence specialist. Despite confessing to not feeling well because of the ship’s motion, Holly delivered a great talk with lots of information about the various layers and processes going on with the Sun.

I meet my cabin stewardess Diojani this afternoon; who is a very nice young woman who keeps my stateroom immaculate throughout the voyage. I find out from the bridge (through the Front Desk) that Magnetic North is 349º True in this area of the world, so I calculate the magnetic declination to be 11º East in order to setup my Kestrel weather station’s wind direction. I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room again, and meet another interesting group of people. I turn in early, since I’m still not quite comfortable with all the time zone changes lately.

November 12, 2012 – Monday – Second day at sea – enroute from Fiji to Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

As I mentioned previously, TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have an excellent choice of enrichment speakers aboard, so here is today’s line-up, along with some of my comments:

9:30AM Speaker: Capturing the Eclipse in Images & Video – Bill Kramer (Eclipse Chasers) gives advice I mostly agree with, but then he says to not set cameras over ISO 400, which I disagree with. My thought is that we are on a moving platform, so capturing sharp, in focus images without any apparent image motion is important. I think that means using higher than normal ISO. Lower ISO will give a richer image, but we can’t afford that while on board a ship.

11AM Speaker: The Navigators – Human Settlement of Oceania – Mark Eddowes is an anthropologist from New Zealand who is based in French Polynesia, and gives a very interesting talk, although it takes almost twice as long as scheduled. He describes how the Lapita people migrated from SE Asia to the western Pacific Islands.

2:30PM Speaker: The Sun-Earth Connection – Holly Gilbert is a solar specialist from NASA who talks about the solar wind, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and solar prominences, and how these various phenomena affect the Earth.

4PM Speaker: Highlights of the Southern Night Sky – Rick Feinberg highlights all the same objects to be found in the southern night sky which I would have talked about. He starts off his talk describing how our location on the Earth affects what we observe in the night sky, and goes from there.

I am thrilled with the quality of the presentations given today, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming presentations during the rest of the cruise. I have an hour long nap before dinner, since this “cold” I thought I was suffering from is actually a throat infection, which is making me quite miserable and tired.

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Cabo San Lucas to San Diego – at sea

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 – Day 30 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to San Diego, USA

The last day of a cruise is always a bit strange, and especially so when it is a long cruise such as this one.

I have breakfast in La Fontaine dining room, and a couple from San Diego I met a couple of weeks ago at breakfast are seated with me again. They related a hilarious story about a flood of water they had coming down the wall behind the toilet in their cabin. Her husband sat on the edge of the tub and kept pressing the toilet flush button to prevent the water from flooding the rest of the cabin, while she flagged down someone to come fix the problem. He sat there for 20 minutes before a repairman finally arrived, and the guy was amazed at their ingenuity. He opined that most passengers would have let the cabin flood! I had to chime in and suggest she missed a golden opportunity to take a photo of her husband while he was in the bathroom, have a print made, and enter it in the photo contest under “People”. That broke up the whole table! I go out on the Lower Promenade Deck after breakfast and see a pod of dolphins beside the ship. The outside temperature this morning is only 16°C – time to wear a jacket!

The ship’s staff stage the farewell show this morning. It was great to see all the serving staff and cabin stewards, as well as the crew from engineering, bridge, food service, housekeeping, front desk & excursion, and entertainment. It is a tradition of Holland America for the crew to present a farewell parade of groups of crew representing each area of the ship. It is always a bit corny, and yet at the same time, it is quite moving to see all the hundreds of crew who cater to the passengers’ needs and wants. Of course, the passengers give them a standing ovation as they are introduced by the Cruise Director. With ample help from the resident entertainers, the crew ends the spectacle by singing a farewell song to the passengers.

My evaluation survey arrives after lunch, so I put a fleece jacket on and go out on the Lower Promenade Deck to fill it out while I experience the last day on the ship. I complain about the lack of enrichment speakers, but otherwise give them an excellent grade. This is also the day I usually set aside to capture the essence of the interior of the cruise ship with photos, since Holland America’s ships are always chock full of original works of art, and have beautifully appointed public spaces.

We had some moderately rough seas last night, but by this afternoon the sea has smoothed out. We are left with a slow, rolling sea almost the length of Rotterdam, which means she noses into the trough, then pulls up and out, so the view from the stern decks is of the horizon bobbing up and down slowly. Some people are getting seasick…on their last night aboard!

After dinner, I get serious about packing. In order to have my bag transferred to dockside tomorrow morning, it has to be out in the hallway by 1AM for pickup. After packing everything into my main bag, it feels heavier than when I arrived! Oh well, there isn’t anything I can do about it. Alaska Airlines charges US$20 per bag, so I’m sure they will tell me and charge me more if it is overweight. I just want to get the packing done so I can put my bag out for pickup, and then get to bed. The announcements for seeing immigration will apparently start as early as 6:15AM tomorrow morning. My friends and I are all scheduled to disembark at 9AM, the first time slot tomorrow.

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Peru to Ecuador – at sea

Days 17 & 18 – At sea – Peru to Ecuador

Dec 7, 2011 – Wednesday – Day 17 – At sea

Cruise ships are a study in contrasts. This morning as I walk through the casino where the bells are ringing and the smokers are puffing; I hear hymns being sung in the next room; people are quietly reading or playing board games in the library; and finally the jewellery store is having a 40% off sale and draw, so crowds are gathering for that event in the retail area. I see a single dolphin jumping in the ocean this morning as I walk the Lower Promenade Deck for exercise.

There is a beautiful sunset this evening, however sea fog obscures any possibility of seeing the green flash. It is Formal Night, so we have a late dinner in La Fontaine main dining room. My friends and I enjoy some Robert Mondavi white wine, and I have a rack of lamb done to perfection. The service is impeccable. As we finish our desserts, the captain announces that we are diverting to Salaverry/Trujillo for a medical emergency for someone needing shore-based treatment. We will dock at 11PM this evening, and then resume our course to Ecuador. He does not foresee any problems arriving in Guayaquil on time the day after tomorrow.

Dec 8, 2011 – Thursday – Day 18 – At sea

I go to breakfast in La Fontaine the main dining room and am seated with a couple from San Diego, who have taken many cruises with Holland America. Their last cruise was 65 days around the Pacific Rim on the Amsterdam, which is a ship they prefer over the other Holland America ships – “better run” is their comment. There are many people aboard who prefer the longer cruises.

After breakfast, I go for a walk around the Lower Promenade Deck, but the air temperature is cool so I duck back inside. The cold Humboldt Current (aka the Peru Current) off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador keeps the air temperature cool, despite being located so close to the Equator. I find a good seat in the Show Lounge, since there are two back-to-back presentations I want to listen to this morning highlighting Nicaragua and Manta, Ecuador, our next ports-of-call.

I work on my photos in the Explorers Lounge, adding a caption and location to each photo. While I am working, the fire alarm sounds and the crew is dispatched to investigate. As it turns out, someone was doing some welding in a work area below decks, and the fumes got into the crew quarters, setting off multiple alarms. The captain comes on the PA system shortly after explaining what happened and assures us it was a false alarm (thank goodness).

Mark Donoghue

Mark Donoghue

We go to the show lounge this evening to see Mark Donoghue, a performer who plays the violin, guitar, piano, harmonica, and he also sings. He is very good, playing favourites from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. My favourites are the TV themes he performs. Riverboat and Bonanza both bring back childhood memories of watching these shows on our black and white Philco TV.

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Panama to Peru – at sea

After we leave Panama, we have two days at sea before arriving in our first port of call in Peru. I know many people who have yet to take a cruise have concerns about “sea days”. In particular, the question is often asked: what do you do with yourself? Perhaps you can find answers to this important question by reading my travelogue below.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 – Day 10 – At sea

Rotterdam with flags flyingToday and tomorrow are “sea days” until we reach our first port in Peru. I look forward to sea days, however some might wonder what happens aboard ship on these days when we are not in a port. How do you avoid tedium?

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Sports Deck stern bar & entertainment screen and lounging poolWell, for starters there are 52 activities listed on today’s program starting at 7:00AM and finishing at midnight…or later, if you are up to it! These are just the planned activities offered by the ship’s Explorations staff. A sampling: listening to enrichment and travel information lectures, playing trivia, staff interviews, spa & acupuncture treatments and exercise programs, food cooking demos, playing games (bridge, trivia, shuffleboard, tennis, ping pong, chess), learning to dance, wine tasting, learning about computers, watching show lounge performances, listening to music in bars and lounges, dancing, or watching first run movies and recorded concerts.

Activities you do by yourself or with travel companions might include: reading a book, walking around the deck, drinking and eating, snoozing, writing a journal or novel, working on crafts and hobbies, swimming, sunbathing, taking photos (ships interior), planning your next cruise, cruising the Internet, playing board games, calling home, booking upcoming shore excursions, shopping, gambling, walking the decks for exercise, or meeting and sharing stories with fellow passengers during meal times, and of course people watching.

So what did I do today?

I have breakfast in the main La Fontaine dining room, sharing a table with a couple from Texas. He is a dedicated birder, she is a retired Spanish teacher, and they are both very well traveled. We spot a Spinner Dolphin out the window as we eat and converse. After breakfast, I fast walk a kilometer around the Lower Promenade Deck before going to the show lounge to listen to the tail end of an interview with the three young men who are the Matinee Idols group (on-board entertainment). I stay to listen to Lisa the travel consultant talk about things to see and do in Peru, taking some notes. Later in the morning, I drop into the Culinary Arts Center to see the Pinnacle Grill chef prepare Prawn Bruschetta and Steak Diane, complete with yummy samples. Afterward, I update my travel journal in the Explorations Lounge, and then meet my friends beside the Lido pool for a light self-serve taco lunch.

In the early afternoon I go back to the show lounge to listen to Willie Friar, who talks about The Life of Peru Through the Years, an enrichment presentation that reviews the history, culture, and life today in Peru, with an emphasis on Lima and Machu Picchu. This is the first guest lecturer on this cruise. Both my friends and I previously mentioned this omission to Thom, the Cruise Director. To his credit, he was already on the issue with their head office, and Willie boarded the ship in Panama City. It’s too bad she didn’t board the ship before we transited the Panama Canal, since she was head of the Canal Authority’s public relations before she retired. She could have enlightened us on the San Blas Indians and the history of the Canal earlier in the cruise.

JoeTourist: Food &emdash; Server finishing Steak Diane at the tableMy friends and I go to the Pinnacle Grill this evening for a special dinner since it is formal night. My friends both have Steak Diane and I have Filet Mignon and giant prawns for our main course. For starters, we have Caesar Salad (made from scratch) and Lobster Bisque. For dessert we all order the same: Cherries Jubilee, which is flambéed at the table. Having Cappuccinos all around finishes things off nicely. All the food is superb, as we always expect from the Pinnacle Grill. The young maître ’d Martijn keeps things moving in the restaurant, and is the gracious host. Our dinner service takes two hours, which makes for a nice evening…worth getting dressed up for.

The ship crosses the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere around 11PM local time. The ship is making good speed at nearly 20kts, despite having a headwind of some 34kts. Our arrival in Trujillo, Peru the day after tomorrow appears to be on schedule.

Thursday, December 1, 2011 – Day 11 – At sea

For breakfast this morning I again go to La Fontaine the main dining room. This morning I have a delicious Italian Frittata, which is made with egg whites, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and a dollop of sour cream. I also have two cappuccinos and take my time talking with my fellow passengers at the breakfast table, easing into the morning as I like to do when I’m home.

Although I’m getting excited about seeing Machu Picchu, our first port of call in Peru tomorrow is Trujillo. I am taking a shore excursion to see some of the ancient sites: Huaca Dragon (dragon temple) and Chan Chan Citadel in the nearby Moche Valley, and the caballitos de totora (reed boats) at Huanchaco Beach. It should be an interesting day…my first in Peru. I go to the show lounge later this morning to listen to Willie Friar’s talk about Trujillo and Pisco, which gives some good background information.

JoeTourist: Activities & Services &emdash; King NeptuneThere is a King Neptune Ceremony held this afternoon to initiate those crew members who have not crossed the Equator before (Pollywogs). Thom the Cruise Director is the “Prosecutor”, and either the captain or one of the senior officers plays “King Neptune” (hard to tell who is under that big wig). Once the Pollywogs have been “charged”, they have to kiss a giant fish and get slimed with spaghetti and goo before they jump into the Lido pool.

We are currently sailing down the coast of Peru, but we are sufficiently offshore to not see any land. We do spot some fishing boats and freighters, as well as some sea birds. We are sailing through the cold Peru ocean current (9°C water temperature) which brings the air temperature down to 20°C this afternoon despite us being only 5° south of the equator. Out on the open decks, people are wearing light jackets, while many are staying inside today. Some of the Pollywogs were visibly shivering once they got wet. Apparently tomorrow in Trujillo we should experience mild, but not hot temperatures, although we will still have to wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn.

We have a wonderful Indonesian-themed dinner in La Fontaine the main dining room this evening. I then go to the main show lounge, where the Trio Passión Española from Barcelona puts on a terrific show of flamenco and “Spanish jazz”. Nancy Ruth – vocals and guitar; Luis Robisco – guitar; Paquito Escudero – percussion. Nancy happens to be from Sidney, BC, Canada, which is a half hour drive from where I live! Looking back on the cruise so far, I have gone to more live entertainment in the last 11 days than I have attended in the last year at home.

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At sea – New Caledonia to New Zealand

2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 18, 2010 – Monday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Bay of Islands, New Zealand

I go to the Rotterdam Dining Room for breakfast this morning. They serve complimentary cappuccino with breakfast, and I have a nicely-cooked Spanish omelette. The woman beside me is from Sarnia, Ontario, and reveals she was the female “volunteer” from the audience who was chosen to hula while the Polynesian male dancers gyrated around her at yesterday evening’s folkloric performance in Noumea. She seems to be quite pleased with her experience.

Shipbuilding competition - Raftea from Nanaimo succeeds in the payload test

Shipbuilding competition – Raftea from Nanaimo succeeds in the payload test

The shipbuilding competition among the passengers winds up today. This is a contest where passengers scrounge materials to build a model ship, which must pass seaworthiness tests in the pool. A New Zealand teams wins, but a Canadian team is in the running too.

Since this is a day at sea, I attend two presentations. The first one is “Things to See & Do in New Zealand”, presented by the onboard travel guide, Susan. Most of what she had to say is stuff I already know, however her handout will be useful, since it gives us a list to work on while we have the rental car in New Zealand. The second presentation is by Donna Giesler, The Star Lady titled “Constellations of the Zodiac”. Donna does a pretty good job of humouring those in the audience who believe in astrology, while also highlighting the astronomical facts about the constellations, some of which are included in the Zodiac. This is her last lecture for this cruise.

We go for dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room this evening. We are seated at a table for six with an Australian couple. They regale us with their experiences as they toured across Canada by rail & rental car, and we generally get along famously. The ship is rolling the most we have experienced during the whole voyage, despite the winds not being the strongest. The wind is on our bow, and the sea swells are the largest and have a long period so the ship plunges down into the big troughs between the waves. The ship’s clocks turn forward one hour tomorrow morning, so we lose another hour after gaining all those hours as we sailed westward across the Pacific earlier in the cruise.

Oct 19, 2010 – Tuesday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Jimmy, the Cruise Director emcees “Time to Say Goodbye” in the show lounge: a show put on for everyone who is departing the ship in Auckland. He gives us lots of useful information, and ends the show with staff from all the departments coming on stage for a group farewell song – a very nice ending to this cruise.

Goodbye Volendam 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

I have a curry lunch in the Lido and eat on the Sea View pool deck in the shade. It was cool but not cold, and the sky is clear and sunny. I have one last swim in the pool. The ship is rolling quite a bit today, so the water in the pool is sloshing around a great deal, however I have the pool to myself.

It is formal dress tonight. After we have before dinner drinks in my cabin, we go to the Rotterdam Dining Room and are seated with an elderly couple: Celeste and John from California. They are both genuine characters and have lots of stories to tell – we all have a good time. They lived in northern Mexico for twenty years, but moved to California after John’s health deteriorated.

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Cruising from Fiji to Vanuatu

2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 13, 2010 – Wednesday – Volendam at sea, enroute from Fiji to Luganville, Vanuatu

JoeTourist: Food &emdash; Flambe Seafood Skewer in Pinnacle GrillIt looks like the North Pacific outside: grey clouds down to the deck, rough seas, and drizzle. Of course, step outside on the Promenade Deck and the warmth and humidity immediately hit you in the face. The next four days will be interesting, since we have four ports of call starting tomorrow with Luganville, Vanuatu. We then stop in Port Vila, Vanuatu and two stops in New Caledonia.

My friends and I go to the Pinnacle Grill this evening to celebrate my birthday. I have the Seafood Skewer and Cherries Jubilee for dessert. Both are flambéed at the table, which is pretty special. It was a nice way to celebrate my birthday – aboard ship and at sea in the South Pacific!

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Cruising from American Samoa to Fiji

2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 10, 2010 – Sunday – At sea, enroute American Samoa to Fiji

We lost Saturday, Oct 9th last night as we crossed the International Date Line.

This morning we pass by Niuafo’ou, an island in Tonga. It is a volcanic island which most recently in 1946 forced evacuation of its inhabitants. We sail quite close to the shore – perhaps within five miles. Thank goodness for image-stabilized telephoto lenses!

JoeTourist: Activities & Services &emdash; Lunch with The Star Lady & friendsWe have lunch with Donna and Dan in the Rotterdam Dining Room. She passes out “star” glasses, which we all don and then ask the waiter take our photo (much to his chagrin). We think it is funny!